A kid cake or an adult cake? A colorful cake or a flavorful cake?

Those were the choices running through Rita Garruba's mind as she carefully considered the unadorned cake in front of her.

Garruba, the pastry chef at Butterfield 9 downtown, has been decorating cakes for a living since she was a teenager. She even worked her way through college making birthday cakes. Which is why all the brightly colored sprinkles and tubes of colored frosting were definitely tempting, especially if she chose to do a kid's cake.

But eventually, it was flavor, not flash, that won out. Because she loves the combination of chocolate, toffee and almonds, Garruba decorated the sides of the cake with a mixture of chopped toffee bits, chopped toasted almonds and a little ground coffee. For the top of the cake, she spread melted semisweet chocolate and garnished the top with a strawberry and two tube-shaped cookies.

To get started, she poured three ounces of sliced almonds onto a baking sheet and baked them at 350 degrees for about five minutes, just enough to lightly brown and crisp the nuts. "You'd be amazed how much toasting can improve the flavor and texture," she said.

While the almonds were toasting, she chopped the toffee bits to give them a finer texture. Once the almonds were cool, she chopped them as well, combining them with the toffee and about three pinches of finely ground coffee. ("Not instant," she stressed. "Ground coffee beans. I prefer ground espresso.")

She then melted three ounces of semisweet chocolate and mixed in a tablespoon of melted, unsalted butter for shine, and a teaspoon of strong coffee for extra flavor. She spread that on top of the cake and used her hand to press the toffee-almond mixture around the sides.

For a finishing touch, she piped white icing (using a store-bought plastic tip) around the top to provide a contrasting frame for the chocolate and the strawberry garnish.

-- Candy Sagon